Vat, Tariffs, and Withholding: Border Taxes and Informality in Developing Countries

32 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2007

See all articles by Michael Keen

Michael Keen

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Fiscal Affairs Department; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

Date Written: July 2007

Abstract

This paper explores the implications of a distinctive feature of the value added tax (VAT) that is stressed by practitioners but essentially ignored by theorists: that it functions, in part, as a tax on the purchases of informal operators from formal sector businesses and, not least, on their imports. It stresses too the potential importance of the creditable withholding taxes that are levied by many developing countries-which have also been ignored. If both of these instruments are optimally deployed, it is shown, then the usual prescription that a small economy should not deploy tariffs remains valid even in the presence of an informal sector; and indeed a simple strategy is established-generalizing the standard prescription developed in models without informality-for deploying these instruments so as to preserve government revenue and increase welfare in the face of efficiency-improving tariff cuts. Conditions are established under which a VAT alone is fully optimal, precisely because it is in part a tax on informal sector production. But they are restrictive: more generally, an efficient tax structure requires deploying both a VAT and withholding taxes.

Keywords: Working Paper, Value added tax, Tariffs, Developing countries

Suggested Citation

Keen, Michael, Vat, Tariffs, and Withholding: Border Taxes and Informality in Developing Countries (July 2007). IMF Working Papers, Vol. , pp. 1-30, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1007923

Michael Keen (Contact Author)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Fiscal Affairs Department ( email )

700 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20431
United States

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.CESifo.de

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

7 Ridgmount Street
London, WC1E 7AE
United Kingdom

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